10 days without a drop

Dear Family and Friends,
Before dawn the sound of wheelbarrows fill my suburban neighbourhood.

Around the craters which once were potholes, through cavernous gullies which are consuming the tar and around the muddy swamps where vehicles have skidded and got stuck.

The wheelbarrows are negotiated through the deep sand drifts which have gathered on corners, in dips and at the bottom of hills; sand that the rain has scoured off our un-repaired suburban roads; sand that once held our roads together but now engulf the storm drains. In the wheelbarrows are the water containers: white, yellow, blue, green; 20litre bottles – Chigubus we call them, a most precious possession.

Around the piles of sodden, festering, dumped garbage, uncollected for over two years, the wheelbarrows find and make their own paths the shortest route to the nearest water. This is usually a shallow hole in the bush, an open well or seepage in a wetland. Or rather whats left of our precious urban wetlands which have gone unprotected for over a decade as dirty, greedy political power struggles have ignored everything else in Zimbabwe. Wetlands which until recently were filled with wild herbs, flowers, reeds and sedges; home to colonies of nesting Weavers, Red Bishop birds, Herons, Hammerkops and Whydahs.

Wetlands that are now a maze of illegal cultivation and are carved up into little strips containing a few mealie plants or sweet potato ridges, climbing beans or creeping pumpkins.

Amongst this allotment gone mad, our urban population have no choice but to dig holes and collect water. As I write this letter our town has just survived 10 days without a drop of water coming out of our taps. Every day the municipality had another excuse as they kept on promising: tomorrow. Our brand, spanking new pump which worked for just a week suddenly stopped working and for ten days an honest explanation never came to light. The need for new valves was one story; sabotage was another; a worker who hadnt filled the oil and therefore seized the engine was another story that was muttered.

On Thursday, eight days into the hell of empty taps, smelly toilets and bucket-baths in under five litres of swampy water, the municipality came around, door to door. Not to offer their humble apologies, explanations, promises or to deliver a bowser of water; oh no, they came only to bring their monthly invoices.

Walking in town the following morning an unkempt man wearing blue overalls and red plastic slip slops came up to me. Clutching a bible he said to me: We are in hell Mai. Ten days without water, electricity only in the middle of the night, a town strewn with litter and everyone talking about the rat explosion, I looked at the man and said: I Know. He was delighted!

She knows! he shouted to anyone who would listen, and kept on shouting as he walked away, laughing, turning back, pointing to me and calling She knows!

That night I went to a Christmas Carol service with the words of the disturbed man still in my head. The service ended with Silent Night and verses were printed and sung in German, Shona, English and Afrikaans.

As I sung I knew that 83 WOZA activists had been charged with criminal nuisance for holding a peaceful protest on International Peace Day; that journalists and newspapers are under renewed threats and that political tension is gathering momentum everywhere. How Zimbabwe longs for and deserves a Silent Night, a new era and a bright horizon. Until next time, thanks for reading, Ndini shamwari yenyu.

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